Leaders Versus Leaders

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`Democracy is the worst system if not for the others`. These words of Winston Churchill continue to haunt every time elections are held under the multiparty system, the model of democracy India has adopted. For instance, all of us know, despite many professed swears that we are fed up, the same leaders who have been the butts of many profane jokes and ridicules in private social evenings, would come back to lead us again. Or if any of one of them is to be unseated, we also know very well their replacements would only be a carbon copy of the replaced politician in different garbs. In these days of sweeping contract culture, it will be one former government contractor replacing another former government contractor. There have been ten Manipur State Legislative Assemblies since 1972, when Manipur became a full-fledged state under the Indian Constitution, but a retrospect will determine, apart from a few cosmetic changes here and there, there haven`™t been much to distinguish one Assembly from the other. This being the trend, understandably, the next Assembly, due in a year and a half, cannot be expected to be much different. It will most probably be the same wine in a different bottle. The electorate has always, wittingly or unwittingly, for various compelling factors, tended not to be independent decision makers, and this is the crux of the problem of democracy in many ways.

The term `leadership` has come to have different meanings in Manipur. In its simplest, it merely means a set of leaders who can win elections using whatever means, fair or foul, humiliating or dignified. Small wonder then that this brand of leadership is facing serious and real challenges, not from within the democratic system that elected them, but from without by men and organizations which have sprung up precisely to challenge the system. Whatever may be said, in more ways than one, the clout that the latter brand of leaders command often surpasses those of the democratically elected ones. Take just the instance of the Naga elected political leadership. Of the total of 11 in the 8th Assembly, there were four who meekly and obediently resigned from the Assembly as well as the membership of their former political parties, all because certain non-Constitutional leaders commanded them to, on the threat that their candidatures to future elections would be opposed if they failed. Today, again especially in the hills, it is no longer a question of the elected leaders welcoming their counterparts in the countercultures of insurgency to join the system they have given their oath of loyalty and allegiance to, but of them faithfully making themselves the subjects of the latter. The casualty is the democratic electoral system.

In the valley, things are a little different, but in no way better. The elected leaders would not resign because insurgent leaders want them to, they can only pretend they are the true guardians of the people as well as the many parallel governments. They issue invitations for peace talks, threatening state repercussion for breaches of law etc, but beyond the façade of these vaunts, there is little substance. The law has been made an ass a long time ago and the diktats of extra-constitutional organizations have come to command much more respect and awe. As we have seen, these groups which can hold the government to ransom are not always insurgents but also can be students`™ and JACs. Even as the government, for whatever the reason, pretends there is no damage done to the structure of democracy as such by handing over many vital and onerous responsibilities of governance to extra-Constitutional bodies, the people have lost all sense of the connection that should exist between government and governance. Hence, we all know who are enforcing excise norms in the state today even as the government remains a silent spectator, just as we also know who handle the education agenda, who are on contractual obligations to construct our roads, do clandestine `taxation` drives, award penalties for civil offences etc. Yet, we also know almost as a certainty, the profile of elected leadership will remain no matter how many new elections are held, precisely because we are the ones who will elect them. By and large, it will be another set of contractors joining the old set of contractors. Absurd things happen in the absurd theatre of Manipur.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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